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Influential Syrian Opposition Bloc to Reject Peace Talks

TURKEY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-OPPOSITION

Damascus –      An influential bloc within the Western-backed Syrian opposition is expected to vote on Saturday against participating in talks aimed at ending the nearly three-year conflict, members said. The Syrian National Council has opposed attending the January 22 negotiations because it says world powers have not done enough to force President Bashar al-Assad to cede power.

Assad’s forces have been gaining ground against the moderate rebel fighters backed by the opposition in recent months and he currently faces little pressure to make concessions. The council is part of a broader opposition coalition which is due to make its final decision on whether to attend the Geneva 2 talks on Monday.

A vote by the council to stay away would put further pressure on the fractious coalition, which has said it is ready to attend Geneva 2 in principle, but would not necessarily force its hand. Syria was plunged into civil war after an uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and descended into armed insurgency after the army cracked down on protests.

More than 100,000 people have been killed, more than 2 million refugees have fled abroad and another 6.5 million are displaced inside Syria. The coalition wants the talks in Switzerland to create a transitional authority for Syria in which Assad plays no role, but his government says it will not surrender power and that the president will remain in control.

The opposition group has also called on authorities to release women and children from Syrian jails and for humanitarian corridors into besieged rebel towns, pleas which the council says have been ignored. “Nothing has changed since we decided against the talks about a month ago except the situation on the ground has become even more complex and the international community has done nothing to ease the humanitarian crisis,” said council member Abdulrahman Alhaj. (Reuters)

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